HUNTINGTON — Cabell County school administrators have been asked to set aside plans to remove swing sets in the county after meeting with state officials.
Sen. Evan Jenkins, D-Cabell, met on a conference call with Cabell County Schools Superintendent William Smith and Chuck Jones of the West Virginia Board of Risk and Insurance Management, and asked that any plans to remove or rope off the swing sets be set aside for the remainder of the school year.
Jenkins said he intended to seek some type of liability reform during the 2011 legislative session that begins in January.
Jedd Flowers, the school system’s director of communications, said the swings will stay in use for now.
Earlier this week, Cabell County Schools Superintendent William A. Smith told Board of Education members that swing sets could still be removed from elementary school playgrounds in the county.
After his office announced last week that the school system was reversing an earlier decision to remove swing sets because state education policy requires the playground equipment at all elementary schools, Smith said he consulted with the attorneys representing the state Department of Education, who indicated that policy wording was not intended to mean that swing sets are required on all school playgrounds.
Smith said the intent in Section 205 of the West Virginia Board of Education Policy was not to mean that every school had to have swings and that removing the swings is still an option on the table until they have come to a conclusion about what to do.
Cabell County Schools officials have considered removing swings from elementary schools because of recent lawsuits and costs associated with meeting national standards for playground safety.
In December 2009, two suits were filed against the Cabell County Board of Education by Joseph Johnson after his son and daughter were injured on the playground at Spring Hill Elementary at different times.
Johnson’s son broke his arm when he jumped off a swing “like Superman,” in April 2006. His daughter fractured her nose when she fell from a set of monkey bars in August 2007.
In both suits, Johnson’s attorneys argued the Board of Education failed to meet national playground safety standards because it did not provide an adequate layer of mulch around the equipment to pad the children’s falls. The lawsuit involving Johnson’s son was settled for $20,000, while the other was settled for $3,000.
Smith said it would require $300,000 to bring all the playgrounds into compliance with recommended playground safety standards devised by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission.
“It doesn’t matter whether the public thinks it’s outrageous or I think it’s outrageous,” Smith said. “When you’re out of compliance on safety standards you are opening yourself up to a lot of litigation.”
Rubber Recycle Vice President Keith Sacks agreed with the decision to remove wood mulch, but said the solution is not to remove swing sets, but to replace the wood mulch with the Play Safer brand of rubber mulch instead.
“The wood mulch manufacturers would have you believe their wood mulch is safe and clean, but from all the lawsuits and injuries to kids that is clearly not the case,” Sacks said.
Sacks said wood mulch can easily scratch kids up, is slick when wet, can cause serious injuries and is bad for the environment.
Rubber Recycle executives have talked to administrators in the school system and are hoping to help them see an alternative in replacing the rubber mulch and keeping kids swinging safely.
The Consumer Product Safety Commission said most injuries happen when kids hit the ground on wood mulch and other alternatives because they are then exposed to potentially life-threatening injuries.
Sacks said rubber mulch breaks a fall much better and can prevent these sorts of injuries from ever happening.
Sacks installed the rubber mulch for President Barack Obama’s daughters at the White House himself just last year.
“If it’s safe enough for the President’s daughters, it’s safe enough for those West Virginia kids,” Sacks said.
Sacks said the rubber mulch is a clean, renewable resource used from old tires.
“It is not only safer than wood mulch, it helps the environment,” he said.